Courageous Conversations Every Leader Should Have

Leadership is never easy; yet, it is one of life’s greatest experiences. The work of a leader is much more difficult today in this ever-changing and distracted world. Leaders need to rise above all the noise to form strong, effective bonds with their teams while envisioning the future and navigating the present.

There is always a certain loneliness in being a leader because you must do things nobody likes. This includes having courageous conversations that require care and confidence. Like it or not, these talks are becoming increasingly necessary as the rate of change in the world accelerates.

Here are 4 examples:

 “I don’t understand. Please explain it to me.” Years ago, I sat in a meeting chaired by the executive vice president of a major corporation. I was a VP sitting at a conference-room table with 20 other VPs. The EVP got up and addressed us. It seemed he was passionately outlining his future strategy for the company. As he spoke, I noticed everyone nodding their heads up and down.  I had no idea what the EVP was saying and I was pretty sure no one else did either.

When he finished, he pointed to each executive and asked “Are you with me?!” It was more motivational than inquisitive, and every single person delivered a resounding “Yes!”

Then he pointed to me. I told him that I honestly didn’t understand what he wanted. He asked sharply, “Why are you being such a pain?” My answer: “Because in order to deliver what you want, I need to know what that is, and I don’t. And, I’ll bet no one at this table knows either.”

I was right. Everyone stared down at the table, embarrassed. But at least we left that meeting with a lot more understanding.

Today, things change so fast that it can be difficult to keep up. Revenue and reputation are always on the line. That’s why clarity is so important for you and your team.  Confusion is the #1 obstacle to productivity, and the #1 obstacle to confidence.  You must lead with clarity and confidence to make good decisions and minimize risk.

“I trust you with this.” Trust me, this is difficult. As a professional worrywart who worked her way up the ranks from receptionist to VP, I’ve always been the one to ensure delivery. In the beginning of my career, I primarily relied on my own capabilities. I was so good at teamwork and execution, my responsibilities grew. As a leader, you want the same success for your team. Your job is to make them stronger.

Make it a point to get to know your team and each person’s strengths. You learn most of those capabilities by trusting them to do what they do best. Without that trust and commitment, leadership just doesn’t work.  As a leader, you gain control by releasing control, and by knowing that no one succeeds alone.

“This is not working out.” One of the hardest things you’ll ever have to do as a leader is to let someone go from the team. Especially someone personable, whom everyone likes.  I’ve faced these decisions and discussions many times, and it never gets easier. But, in this fast-paced business world, you need people you can rely on—people you can trust. And when that bond is broken, you must consider your team, the tasks at hand, the future, and, then, do the right thing.

This is one courageous conversation that should never come as a surprise to the person being let go. Another conversation always precedes it.  A good leader knows when something is wrong, addresses it, and allows time for correction. When correction doesn’t come, it’s time to let go.

“What if this doesn’t work? What if we fail? What if this happens—what then?” “What if” thinking is an important part of all strategy and execution, because it sparks contingency planning and preventive actions. It is a key ingredient in decision-making.

This conversation is essential for minimizing the probability and seriousness of risk. It helps you identify problems before they arise and prepares you for when things go wrong–which they often do. As many companies move at breakneck speed and pivot often, leaders need to be prepared to fail–to be resilient–to bounce back quickly.

“What if” thinking is a big part of this.

Your job as a leader is to avoid being blind-sided and to minimize risk. So the higher your confidence in asking (or answering) these questions, the lesser the probability and seriousness of risk–for you, your team and your company.

Leaders who fear these conversations avoid realistic issues that could impact their organization. Without them, time, money and momentum can be lost, causing delays, dissatisfaction, and overall frustration. So don’t let a crisis of confidence stop you from having them. Be a leader. Be confident.

 

 

Copyright 2014 Michelle Kerrigan

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